Friday 18th December 2020 Big Music Performance Hall, Crows Nest
It’s not called Big Music without reason and on Friday 18th December in the year of Coronavirus 2020, the Mecca of live music north of Ernest Street, Crows Nest witnessed the biggest musical duel since Sherbet, with “Free The People” defeated Jeff St. John and the Copperwine to win the 1972 Hoadley’s Battle of the Sounds. The male performer’s hair may be a little bit shorter now and the waistlines a little more expansive, but the British Invasion show pitted the Gene Maynard coached “Cats on The Scene” against their arch rivals, Ash Rothschild’s cleverly named “Ash Band”.
Band members had given blood sweat and even shed the odd tear for 14 weeks in the lead up to the finale, a homage to British performers who took the music world by storm in the 1960’s. Gene Maynard had astutely won the toss at rehearsal on the preceding Wednesday night in the absence of opposition coach Ash Rothschild and Maynard elected to bat first in this titanic confrontation.
Naturally with such talent on display and household musical names such as Bill Kable LLB, Peter White and Nigel Smyth present, the show was a sellout with an estimated further three hundred million watching live throughout the world, courtesy of Zoom (these figures never need to be substantiated).
The room bristled with excitement when Cats on the Scene took the stage bang on time at 7.36 p.m. From the moment that Pete (“Sticks”) White pounded the drum skins introducing the Rolling Stones Get off My Cloud the audience realised that they were now in the presence of something special. The beehive coiffured Shantelle McCall, looking every inch the sixties British diva, provocatively eyed Ash Band in the “green room” telling them not to “hang around ’cause two’s a crowd”. The battle was truly on – Sherbet v Jeff St. John & the Copperwine 1972 revisited.
Shantelle then shared vocals with guitarist David Jack on a rollicking version of The Beatles 1965 number one hit Can’t Buy Me Love. There were no Kinks in All Day & All of the Night with McCall’s smooth vocal delivery and a note perfect guitar solo by Bill Kable LLB. It had to be note perfect as Bill had composed it himself. It was then time for player coach Gene Maynard to whip out his Hohner blues harp from his back pocket (uncomfortable if it’s still in there when you sit down) for I’m the Face and let the audience know that he was “the face” (as well as coach, bassist, drummer, guitarist, guitar pedal technician……..etc.) of the band.
A well informed (and obviously quite old) passer by happened to hear Maynard’s harp playing, the like of which he said he had not heard since Larry Adler played a World War 2 gig for US Marines at the Cat & Fiddle Hotel Balmain in 1944. Some compliment!
Crazy ‘Bout You followed, a song written and recorded by Christine Perfect (later McVie) allegedly expressing Ms. Perfect’s infatuation with Spencer (The Spencer Davis Group) Davis. This was carried off perfectly by Shantelle Perfect on vocals with Michelle Perfect, her melodic keyboard accompanist.
The Yardbirds For Your Love showed that Pete White didn’t spend forty years in the legal profession solely to emerge as a mere drummer. The many hours spent walking to the Land Titles Office in Sydney’s Macquarie St. provided a unique opportunity to also hone his vocal skills that would allow him to sing the words “for your love” on the Yardbirds classic numerous times, with impeccable feel and empathy.
Keep On Running, was how the aforementioned Spencer Davis reacted to Christine Perfect’s persistent amorous advances and it kept the crowd on it’s toes with David Jack and Shantelle McCall then duetting on Cream’s White Room. This 1968 classic from the album “Wheels on Fire” featured a searing guitar solo from Bill Kable LLB which extracted rapturous spontaneous applause from Bill’s friends and family strategically placed in the front row.
Those Cats on the Scene were purring like a kitten served premium Atlantic salmon in a warm room in the middle of winter. Rival band coach Ash Rothschild’s tight pants were growing ever tighter in the wake of his opponents scorching set.
Son of a Preacher Man followed by Spooky gave Shantelle the opportunity to show why she came second in the 2012 Lower North Shore “Who Can Sing Like Dusty Springfield?” competition. The room exploded after Shantelle’s outro to “preacher man” as Shantelle showed that, like USA Presidential elections, Dusty Springfield sing alike competitions can also be rigged.
By now Ash Band were in the green room trying to calm their nerves and lower their collective blood pressure. Were they the 2020 Jeff St. John & the Copperwine to Gene Maynard’s Sherbet? Band members were considering options to settle for an honourable draw including pulling a fuse and plunging the room into darkness. Coach Rothschild rallied his team though reminding them that in the spirit of the Mick Jagger/ Keith Richards composition, they were “Street Fighting Men” which immediately drew quizzical looks from Jo Mooney and Cristobel Peters.
Meanwhile back on stage, Cats on the Scene were drawing to the end of their set. Tin Soldier, their penultimate offering allowed Michelle Helms to showcase the keyboard skills that won her a one year scholarship in 2009 to the North Turramurra Elton Jack School of Piano and Occasional Drum Tuition. Shantelle McCall produced a vocal performance of which the late Steve Marriott of the Small Faces would have been proud and then closed the set with her very best Paul McCartney impression on The Beatles 1963 favourite, I Saw Him ( Her) Standing There.
As Cats on the Scene took their bows to the inevitable thunderous applause (well as thunderous as thirty five people can generate), the frenetic audience speculated that if this was the support act, what might be expected from the headline band?
Ash Band launched into their set with the Searchers 1964 number one hit, Needles & Pins. Lead vocalist Jo Mooney certainly was not searching for anything as she was immediately into her vocal stride. This was followed by Mooney’s raucous rendition of the Swinging Blue Jeans’ Hippy Hippy Shake, a condition that one experiences upon entering the outskirts of Nimbin on the NSW Far North Coast. There is currently no vaccine for this condition but Donald Trump has assured Nimbin visitors that one day it will just go away. Craig Cartner delivered a rasping instrumental break, simultaneously “shaking to the left and then shaking to the right” which is no mean feat playing lead guitar. In the background Cristobel Peters punched rhythmic chords punctuated by a startling keyboard glissando.
Up next was Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress sang by a long cool woman, Jo Mooney almost in a black dress with a long cool guitar intro played by a long cool man in black but not a dress, Craig Cartner. Cartner and fellow guitarist Glen Parker traded rhythmic shuffle chord progressions with Ash Rothschild on bass the Clag glue bonding the work of the two tall axemen. The early songs in the set featured Greg Dayhew on drums whose steady beat and timing would bring a smile to the face of any cardiologist.
It was then time for the not quite so long but equally cool woman in the red dress, Cristobel Peters to showcase her keyboard prowess in one of this writer’s favourites, The Zombies She’s Not There. Cristobel perfectly replicated the original song’s intro, played a delightful instrumental break and decorated the whole two minutes and forty two seconds of this classic piece with cleverly placed trills.
Ash Rothschild reminded the crowd that Covid 19 restrictions (at that time) allowed for fifty on the dance floor as Ash Band tore into the 1968 Peter Green composition, Albatross. At the conclusion of this epic instrumental, there was still room for fifty on the dance floor and Cristobel Peters had to be awoken from a micro snooze. Nigel Smyth was mesmeric on drums and for this performance of the classic Fleetwood Mac track, guitarists Cartner and Parker have both been nominated for the Paul (Pete’s brother) Townshend Lower North Shore Over 35 Guitarist of the Year award.
Van Morrison’s Gloria was the next Uber off the musical rank featuring a superb piece of vocal call (Cartner) and response (Mooney). This is always a favourite for those who have family members of this name and have trouble spelling “GLORIA” on birthday cards. It also serves as a reminder to any budding guitarist that you only need to know the A, D & E major chords to play rock and roll. Jo Mooney continued up front on the Jagger/ Richards composition As Tears Go By, delivering a hard rock version as it would have sounded if the Ramones had been around in 1965.
Assuming the character of a vamp, Jo then delivered a most creditable rendition of Tramp. This R & B classic highlighted Cristobel Peters’ keyboard skills which were even more prominant when the Roland Juno “On”switch is engaged. Thank you Ben.
The Animals Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood was very well received then Gene Maynard joined Ash Band on stage for the Kinks You Really Got Me , adding backing vocals to his impressive resume that includes every instrument excluding the Hornucopian Dronepipe. Gene has vowed however to take lessons if a tutor for this instrument (or the instrument itself) can actually be located.
The most contentious song in the set would have to have been Substitute by The Who. Early on in rehearsals, Jo Mooney felt that a lyricist of Pete Townshend’s ability could have done a little better and consequently a couple of lines had the new Mooney lyrics “substituted.” Mooney is now seeking royalties from The Who’s management for any future publishing or performance rights for the song. The Who are seeking damages of up to $1b from Mooney who has engaged Bill Kable LLB to defend the law suit.
With controversy now set aside, Ash Band closed the show with the Rolling Stones’ Jumping Jack Flash and the overworked and underpaid Jo Mooney again delivering a powerful lead vocal, fortunately without the strutting and pouting of Michael Jagger. As the sound of the final B major guitar chord wafted off into the Alexander St. night, members of both groups stayed around for the inevitable autograph signing and selfies. The Battle of the Bands was over, tension between Cats on the Scene & Ash Band had evaporated and both groups agreed that the Big Music “British Invasion” show had been an extremely enjoyable and worthwhile exercise. Enormous credit is due to coaches Gene Maynard and Ash Rothschild for the success of the show and to sound engineer Ben (“George Martin”) Siva for his contribution over many weeks.
Jo Mooney was seen in deep conversation with Bill Kable LLB as the curtain closed and the concert hall emptied.
David Jack © 2020